Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Shock of the Fall - Book Review

I have noticed I've been quite interested in novels with narrators who are quite young recently and The Shock of the Fall is no exception! I've also recently review Room by Emma Donohue which has a very adorable and sheltered five year old as a narrator and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green which has a quirky sixteen year old narrator. I think having the younger perspective offers a fresh take on a story- I hope to continue on with this trend by reading The Bear by Claire Cameron in the near future.

But alas, I have digressed, on to the novel...

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer is the story of a young person's descent into mental illness after an almost unspeakable tragedy. Matthew is just an average, rambunctious little boy when a terrible accident changes his and his family's lives forever. The Shock of the Fall explores the connections between memory, grief, loss, and mental illness in a way that is striking: by letting Matthew tell his own story, his own way.

Mental illness is one of those things that is hard for people to talk about, which is why there are campaigns out there like Bell's Let's Talk. This novel does a good job at starting the conversation and really getting into the psyche of someone who struggling with their mental health. Not that Filer's goal was to do so, but the novel offers a plausible headspace for those wondering what it's like for someone with schizophrenia and the journey might have taken them there.

The book feels decidedly disconnected which I believe is on purpose in order to mimic the confusion and disorientation of the narrator. In other words, it jumps all over the place, moving back and forth in time from his current happenings to his childhood memories. In light of this, this may be a reason to take the book a bit slower, backtrack a bit if you get lost, or perhaps don't read quite so many books at once- if you're anything like me, I always have a few on the go!

The narrator, Matthew, speaks directly to the audience in a way that becomes really endearing as the story goes on. You really come to empathize with the character as you begin to comprehend the difficulties of his life and how that contributes to his mental illness. It is not only the guilt and responsibility he feels for the loss of his older brother, Simon, which plagues him, but how his relationships with his family changed after the accident. Matthew heartbreakingly describes his time spent secluded from his peers, his endless trips to the doctor's office orchastrated by his mother, and the way his detatched and grieving parents interacted with him. 
Their treatment of him after the tragedy, though not intentional, is confusing to young Matthew, and becomes isolating and almost emotionally neglectful. Matthew is painfully aware of their different treatment: in the sounds of their voices, in their touch, in the things they talk about with him; all summed up by his description of the way that his entire family can only stare at the spot where his brother, Simon, used to lay on the floor, instead of the television program they are supposed to be watching. The loss of Simon profoundly changes their interaction with their remaining son, Matthew.

The observations that Matthew makes in the novel, not only about his familial life, but about how mental health issues are handled at large, are particularly cutting. He notes that the mugs provided at the facility he stays in are tainted by the brands of drug companies scrawled upon them. He describes the endless hours of boredom sitting outside surronded only by concrete, smoking cigarette after cigarette. He shares phone calls where his best, and only, friend makes excuses for not visiting him in the hospital. By sharing his story, you see, from the patient's point of view, how Matthew's schizophrenia is "handled" by a team of professionals who are constantly fighting for funds to stay open.

All in all, this is an incredibly haunting book that I will not soon forget.

Keep reading!


  1. What an amazing review. I've got this on my to be read list now. I'm a huge advocate for Bell Let's Talk and Mental Health, so I already have a soft spot for this novel.

    1. Hi Ashley, thank you. I'm so glad you enjoyed it! Let me know when you finish this one- I'd love to hear your thoughts and talk more about it! -Meg


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